As we continue our walk through a Wesleyan way of salvation,we’ve seen that God wants to renew our minds, our emotions, and our wills, and that involves a necessary “taking off” and “putting to death” of old patterns of thinking, feeling, and wanting. God also wants us to “put on” and to “be clothed with” things such as the virtues, which lead to a life of character. In addition, God wants to produce in us what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” The fruit of the Spirit come from Galatians 5:13-26. What follows is exegetical work on this passage.
13You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
His argument can be summarized in verses 13-18 as follows: Your freedom is not without its limits, as if you might let your inclination to sin have its way in you. You must be enslaved to one another in love; this is your new form of slavery. Rather than trying to obey the Jewish Law as if that will make you righteous, if you love one another, you will have fulfilled the Law and do what the Law was trying to accomplish anyway. If you continue in your divisive speech patterns, this will all be over quickly. Walk in the Spirit, just as you used to be expected to walk in the statutes of the Law (cf. Exodus 16:4; Leviticus 18:4; Jeremiah 44:23; Ezekiel 5:6-7), only this time you’ll be able to not give in to the sinful inclinations you have. This new way of walking involves the Holy Spirit, who will empower you. Why? Because you cannot do both. The sinful inclinations you have are opposed to the Spirit. As I [Paul] implied earlier, let me make clear now: Those being led by the Spirit are not under the law any longer.
This last point, made in verse 18, seems to be the crux of the matter. The Galatians had a choice to make: either continue in the gospel he had preached to them or go back to trying to follow the Law. Only the Spirit, given by Jesus, could empower them to live out from under the reign of sin. It would be apparent to everyone which choice they had made based on either the acts of the sinful inclination or the fruit of the Spirit. “Evident” (Gk. phanera) is translated elsewhere as “laid bare” (1 Cor. 14:25), “plain” (Rom. 1:19), “well known” (Mk. 6:14), and “outward” (Rom. 2:28).
The list of sins in verses 19-21 has been analyzed by scholars for years. Ben Witherington III believes they are written in an A B A pattern, with the first five sins characteristic of the Galatians’ lives prior to salvation in Christ; the next eight sins what they were fighting against currently in the church; and the last two also being sins they struggled with prior to salvation. It is the middle that Paul focuses on when he writes the list of the fruit of the Spirit. “[T]he nine words called fruit are to be contrasted with and seen to overcome the eight words beginning with ‘hostilities’” (Witherington III, 1998, p. 400). If this is the case, and it seems to be, based on the list of terms Paul chooses as part of list “B”, which are found nowhere else in vice lists of popular philosophers of Paul’s day (Witherington, 1998, p. 406)—then Paul is addressing the fighting, biting, and devouring that was going on or that he assumed could go on in the Galatian church if some gave in to Paul’s opponents and submitted to the Law.
The fruit of the Spirit corresponds to “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (vv. 20-21). Whereas the Galatians were in danger of factions and division, this list is of a singular fruit, not fruits. The fruit of the Spirit begins with love, agape. Love is shown by how believers are slaves to one another (v. 13); believers must love their neighbor as themselves (v. 14). It is the most important characteristic of the Christian life.
“It must be kept steadily in view that Paul is here describing social traits, not primarily inner qualities of individuals,” says Witherington III (1998, p. 409). What he means is that this list of fruit can only be displayed in the community of believers. I would disagree that these are not also inner qualities. I think Witherington has set up a false dichotomy. If the Spirit is the one who produces this fruit in believers, then the fruit is inherently an inner reality, a virtue, a characteristic, as well as an outward social trait. The goal is not for an individual to develop the fruit of love or joy in order to display it in the world, though that is a necessary byproduct of being led by the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit have to do with the body of Christ first and foremost.
N.T. Wright (After You Believe, 2010) speaks of the singular fruit,
Just as Plato and others insisted that if you want truly to possess one of the cardinal virtues you must possess them all—because each is, as it were, kept in place by the others—so Paul does not envisage that someone might cultivate one or two of these characteristics and reckon that she had enough of an orchard to be going on with. No: when the Spirit is at work, you will see all nine varieties of this fruit (p. 195).
Paul sums up the passage in verses 24-26. Verse 24 states that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Note how he does not say they have crucified the works of the sinful nature. For Paul, the death of the inclination to sin must go deeper than simply crucifying outward works; it involves putting to death the very inclination to sin in the first place.
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25). This verse reminds the Galatians that they cannot assume that their new life in the Spirit automatically translates in living out these fruit among one another. They must cultivate the fruit of the Spirit by keeping in step with the Spirit. Longenecker (1998) writes of the second verb, stoichomen,
Its use elsewhere by Paul, however, suggests ‘walking in the footsteps’ of another (cf. Rom 4:12) or ‘living in accordance with a standard’ (cf. Gal 6:16; Phil 3:16; also Acts 21:24). So here by exhorting his converts to ‘be in line’ or ‘keep in step’ with the Spirit, Paul is asking those who claim to live by the Spirit to evidence that fact by a lifestyle controlled by the Spirit. That he exhorts believers to do what it is the work of the Spirit to produce (cf. vv 22–23) is typical of Paul’s understanding of Christian ethics, for Paul never views the ethical activity of the believer apart from the Spirit’s work nor the Spirit’s ethical direction and enablement apart from the believer’s active expression of his or her faith (266).
These initial posts on an ordo salutis certainly are fun. Last time we wrote about original sin. In doing so, we presupposed an earlier post about humanity being made in the image of God; Genesis 1-2 are the starting point, not Genesis 3. I post about sin here first because before turning to God in Christian spiritual formation, we must turn from our sin. And before we can do that, we must be made aware of our sin.
Because we are dead to God, have made ourselves into gods and goddesses, and are helpless to change, conviction of sin does not come from within. A person whose heart stops beating needs someone else to yell, “Clear,” and zap them.
It comes from without, from the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that when he left, he would send the Holy Spirit. “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment; in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:8-11 NIV). At this beginning stage of the transformation process, the Spirit is at work to both make us aware that we’re living in sin and to convict us about it.
God can make us aware of sin through a variety of ways [not an exhaustive list]: a passage of Scripture that cuts us to the heart (in our own reading or in corporate reading), in hearing the story of another Christian who struggles with the same sin (similar to Nathan’s story to David in 2 Samuel 12, only a real-life story rather than a parable), from a book we’re reading, or at the moment of transgression when there’s no arguing that I sinned.
If the Spirit is truly convicting us, he will remind us of a Scripture passage that we already know, or of the nature of God, or of God’s love for us simultaneously with our realization of sin.
Conviction is generally thought of in negative terms: guilt, getting caught in sin, etc. But in its real sense, conviction is an indication that our hearts are sensitive enough for God to touch them. Conviction is a positive experience in this way. One of the key indicators that you are being convicted is that God will let you know about your sin in both grace and truth. Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. This applies to conviction, I believe, in that God does not hammer us with how bad we’ve been, causing depression and grief, but with clarity and truth, bringing the reality of what we’ve done to the fore of our minds so we can respond to it.
Here are two places in Scripture where we read of conviction.
- In Isaiah 6, Isaiah responds to God’s holiness by saying, “Woe is me!”
- In Acts 2, after hearing Peter’s sermon, the Jewish audience was “cut to the heart” and asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).